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My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose
September 15th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

Editor's Note: Brian D. McLaren  is author of "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World" (Jericho Books/Hachette Book Group). 

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.

At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam - beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.

Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often - truth be told - contain lots of downright lies.

For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents."  Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing" Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy "naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

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Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.

Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned.  John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.

Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington" (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, promoted earlier this year.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians - and all Americans - in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.

Ambassador's killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed

Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.

The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point - a hitting bottom, if you will - in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia. If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.

It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian - beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.

Islamophobic evangelical Christians - and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late - must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.

The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.

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Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.

To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.”

The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian D. McLaren.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Islam • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. glades2

    Articles like this serve no purpose but to create more trouble...

    P.S. Did anyone consider the writer's thinking to be Christianophobic?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • T. Veblen

      McLaren is an excellent example of Western self-loathing. Americans are killed, but the real problem, as he sees it, is that we are insulting Islamists with our negative thoughts.

      Apologists like him make me want to barf.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  2. clarifying

    I'll give you that there are a lot of indoctrination of Islamophobia that happens in the Christian Church, but wasn't the movie made by some Israeli American Jews?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  3. Loren

    While the substance of this opinion is correct, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, there is a fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity, Christianity is not based on the words of a man who claimed to talk to God and whose followers have consistently insisted that all non-believers are to be forced from their homes and, if not sent into exile, killed outright. Forget that most followers don't follow that path, the fact of the matter is that the leaders of most Islamic nations do, and have practiced genocide and other means to convert followers of other religions would suggest to an average person that Islam poses a real threat to those in the West who believe in religious freedom.

    Yes, the message of these evangelicals could use some leavening to remove the outright lies, but the truth is much closer to the fears expressed by the evangelicals than the writer of this article is willing to admit. After the protests in Egypt and elsewhere, who can doubt that the truth is closer to the fiction than anyone would like to admit.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  4. tomnikoly

    Even a cursory examination of history will reveal that NO organized religion has the market cornered for evil.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  5. Chris33

    The 3 great evils in the world are Islam, the Catholic Church, and the Republican Party.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Dr. R.

      Perhaps you should add a fourth: the idiot in the looking glass.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  6. Malcolm

    The invisible primate in all these religions really has his or her collective self together and isn't really even trying... This is why Rome didn't allow Plebs to make the laws, because they're uneducted and ignorant, but the invisible primate can stir anyone at any level and make them do the dumbest things! Yes unite all you wacky religous nuts and please do the rest of us a favor and yourselves off so we can at very least have our news media back, I miss hearing about how crappy my own country is, I already know how crappy most of these protesting countries are in reality, murder isn't even a crime there unless you murder the wrong guy.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  7. thelongshorttrader

    This is beautifully written Mr. McLaren, thanks. I think the likes of Tim Keller in New York stand in support of you and others who strive to be true peacemakers (as the perfect marriage of mercy and justice).

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • T. Veblen

      No, it is totally bankrupt moral relativism, or if you prefer, McLaren is apologizing to the Islamofacists for our bad feelings when the Islamofacists murder Americans and drag them through the streets.

      His homily, yuk, really.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  8. Truth

    Proof positive there is no "God": if there really was a divine being such as "God", why would he place blacks and Arabs/Muslims on the Earth alongside peaceful, logical people? Unless your "God" is a prankster, and enjoys the misery of good, decent human beings, why else would he allow these awful creatures to walk alongside us?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  9. Mike

    Brian McLaren are you really serious? Are you blind? Are you deaf? Are you dumb? Open your eyes and listen to the Muslim hate speech, "Death to America" being chanted in over 20 countries now. You are a fool.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  10. Dan

    `This is an outrageous concept that Americans are going against Islam over Evangelical TV shows! What Crap all I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11 watching people who to work on a sunny day Jumping to their Deaths. This is just another apology for us being Americans! Here a few quotes from the Quran :
    Quran (5:33) – "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement"

    Quran (8:12) – "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them" No reasonable person would interpret this to mean a spiritual struggle. Yea the religion of Peace and Love.
    So I decided I will stay "Islamaphobic " for a while longer. CNN you are a Disgrace to all Americans for even hinting that we are to Blame for this

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • mjengebretson

      It is not Islam, the religion of peace that Americans are apprehensive about. What gives us a real bad vibe is Islam, the totalitarian political system, and Islam, the oppressors of women, and Islam, the zero-sum game against Jews and Christians, and Islam, the ignorant masses who are primed and pre-incited to riot and kill infidels at a moments notice. They are the ones we will face when the time comes.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Jason

      McClaren is a heretic. He has very in common with a Bible believing Christian. I have read his books on the Emergent Church and they border on blasphemy. Spineless theology. This does not surprise me.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  11. Zoby

    A muslim is like a snake, it will always turn against you and it cannot be controlled. The best thing you can do is turn it lose in the wild and stay away from it.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  12. sgt13echo

    Is this author of this article Hypocritical? “Islamophobic evangelical Christians” Here he is labeling a group of people (Evangelical Christians) as Islamophobic by emails or his own first-hand accounts. Has he talked to most Evangelicals, or formed an opinion from his limited experiences? My point being is that he points out Evangelical Christians perceive Islam as evil by their limited engagement. Is it not the same thing to in reverse? Do most who follow Islam not see Christianity as Evil by their limited experiences? Also, is the author a spokesman for either Evangelicals or Muslims, I think not! He sounds like a marginal Hypocrite!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  13. TomTom

    Brian D. McLaren has no clue how Islam works. He is a premier example of the libral mindset that thinks apologizing to the Muslims will gain their love and favor. Brian D. McLaren is a tool. Islam will stop at nothing other than total world domination. At least try to read their so called religious text. But that is too much to ask.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  14. junaid

    reading a lot of the comments on here.. looks like McLaren has proved his point

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  15. Jonathan Jupp

    God, please protect me from your followers.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  16. beezers

    That's right... since Muslims are killing Americans because of an offensive depiction of Muhammad, now is the time American Christians should "own up" to Islamophobia.

    I'll tell you what, when an Egyptian Muslim takes the same film and dubs "Jesus Christ" over "Muhammad," let's see how many Christians around the world riot outside Egyptian embassies seeking to kill diplomats.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  17. kman

    I will stand up against the First Muslim that wants a debate i am not Islamophobic or whatever. With Christ on my side who can be against me?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  18. ORChuck

    Branding something a "phobia" is often attempt to portray those who have a legitimate fear as irrational, insane, mentally-ill or mentally-defective. Certainly as "unsophisticated" or "uneducated" or "lacking understanding."

    But not all fear is irrational. Some fear is good because it helps us realize and avoid dangers. Such fears are natural and self-protective.

    A person who is truly fear-less, who has no fear, will be reckless and careless and even self-destructive.

    Based on the headlines of the last week - much less the last decade - a fear of Islam is founded in fact. It is hardly irrational. And it is a healthy and self-productive thing. Those who try to hang the "phobia" tag on that fear, who try to stigmatize that fear as irrational and a trait of an uneducated or unsophisticated - much less a defective - person try to do so at great peril to us and our nation.

    Based on the headlines of the last week - much less the last decade - a healthy fear of Islam is not a phobia at all.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • AmericanLiberal

      Well put, that is why we feel pain when we burn our fingers
      A built in protection sensor.
      And it is quite obvious to us who are not blinded by our own political party's ambition for power,
      THAT WE ARE ABOUT TO GET BURNED !

      HELLO ! WAKE UP AMERICA...

      September 17, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  19. RealityCheck

    I'm sorry but Christians don't show up at demonstrations with AK47s and RPGs. They also don't go around filming the act of beheading people and engage in other antisocial behavior. Ok, one or two Christians blow up an abortion clinic as opposed several thousand burning down an embassy. I would also state that it takes more than a crappy video on youtube to incite the few Christian whackos as opposed to seeminigly entire communities in the middle east. Come on CNN, can't you find some other "oppressed" group to remort on?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • chuckt

      So true! Did anyone see Christians rioting and destroying property because they were burning bibles in Iraq because the army sent them by mistake. Unfortunatly no one every research this because they would findout they sent qurans to help increase relations. Either way our government was involved and you did not see any christian nations burning our embassy.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • AmericanLiberal

      TRASHING ON CHRISTIANS IS GETTING OLD

      I'M LOOSING THE TASTE FOR IT
      IT IS MAKING US LOOK REALLY STUPID AND A BIT HYPOCRITICAL (or a lot)

      I'd rather pal up with the christians, serriously, I might live longer
      ...and they do good charity work in my community
      I don't see one damn muslim food bank or mission/homeless project ANYWHERE

      September 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  20. TODAY

    Thanks for this story, I think you have very good point and I hope a lot of people read it.

    September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.